Estimated greenhouse gas emissions under India's INDC, 1990-2030. In its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) under the 2015 Paris climate accord, India promises a 33 to 35 percent reduction in emissions intensity by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. But its growing economy means that total emissions will still rise. Graphic: Carbon Brief

By Arun Agrawal
19 December 2018

(The Conversation) – The international climate change conference that concluded in Katowice, Poland on 15 December 2018 had limited ambitions and expectations – especially compared to the 2015 meeting that produced the Paris climate agreement. It will be remembered mainly for its delegates agreeing on a common “rulebook” to implement existing country commitments for reducing emissions.

The deal is vital. It keeps the new global climate regime alive. It maintains a path to deliver financial and technical assistance to vulnerable countries and peoples. Actors with quite divergent interests, including the United States, the European Union, oil producing states, China, India, and small island nations all accepted a common approach to measuring progress.

But from my perspective as a social scientist focusing on conservation and international development, the technical orientation of the Katowice meeting failed to match the urgency of needed climate action. Negotiators made little progress toward deeper emissions cuts. Nor did the meeting do much to help the most vulnerable people, ecosystems and nations.

Delegates in Poland were simply unprepared to work toward the radical structural transformations for which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called in its special report in October 2018 on the implications of failing to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This report showed the enormous risks if average global temperatures exceed preindustrial levels by more than 1.5 degrees C. Unless the global community brings runaway emissions under control within 12 years, it will be too late to hold temperature increases within that range.

Such an undertaking requires countries, businesses and households to shift away from existing energy and transportation systems. New land use practices and diets that reduce emissions are necessary. Changes in basic social dynamics on this scale are unprecedented in human history except during times of war.

Four oil-exporting countries – Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States – prevented the delegates in Poland from officially welcoming the IPCC report. Many critics viewed this action as downplaying the report’s urgency.

India’s high and rising greenhouse gas emissions, and the fact that some 600 million of its poorest and most vulnerable people depend on agriculture, make it a particularly important player in climate negotiations.

To keep global emissions under control, it is critical that India take meaningful and decisive actions. Bold action is also necessary to make Indian households more resilient against climate change.

India’s emissions have grown rapidly since 2000. It currently emits about 2.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, making it the world’s third largest emitter, after China – which produces about 9.5 gigatons yearly – and the United States at 5 gigatons Admittedly, India ranks far lower in terms of its per capita emissions, which place it 105th in the world.

More than two-thirds of India’s emissions are from the energy sector. Of that amount, more than 75 percent can be attributed to electricity generation.

India’s energy mix is set to improve. It is increasing reliance on renewables; it has placed a moratorium on the construction of new coal-fired power plants; and, it is attempting to improve energy use efficiency.

But without far more aggressive action, its aggregate emissions will continue to rise. This is because India needs to meet the energy needs of a growing and increasingly wealthier population. Also, over time, more Indians will gain access to energy from utilities rather than using cookstoves and open hearths. [more]

An Indian perspective on the Poland climate meeting: Not much help for the world’s poor and vulnerable

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